Delivery Takes Out Diners
Trying to square the pandemic delivery boon with dining going forward
(Listen to this article on Spotify)
The pandemic was bad. Economically, it was really bad for restaurants. They depended on in-person visits and already barely made money (if they were lucky). The pandemic hit and it was Armageddon. Some places shut down immediately, never to come back again. Some places resorted to jury-rigged outdoor setups. Most, however, were salvaged by delivery. Restaurants that did even a little delivery in the past went all-in after March 2020. Those that would never deign to deliver were all of the sudden shipping out $50 steaks and wedge salads to home-bound eaters.
But then the pandemic ebbed. Or at least our willingness to ignore it overwhelmed any surviving restrictions. What didn’t ebb? Delivery.
To-Go > To-Stay
We were in Chicago a few weeks ago at a local breakfast shop. Wood beams, high ceilings, prime character through and through. As we were walking in, I noticed cars pulling up to the curb and baristas walking out to deliver bacon, egg, and cheeses right up to their window. Talk about service. We walked in, immediately put in our order to eat-in, and then waited. And waited. And waited.
Meanwhile, we saw baristas and waiters getting their steps in for the day leaving behind the bar and delivering to cars outside. Weirdly enough, when those baristas left to deliver things, they weren’t barista-ing and making things. The kitchen was cookin, the drinks were flowin, and it was all going outside. 30 minutes later, we got our food and drinks and sat down for a 2019-style breakfast. (Side note: it may not have helped that Marisa was interpreted as “Bernesa” and perhaps our food was ready earlier than we thought. Ironically they would have gotten her name right if she’d ordered online…)
Another example: At the Starbucks in the airport, we were standing in one of those long lines that inevitably form at airport coffee shops. Marisa got impatient, hopped on the app, ordered our coffee and latte, and 3 minutes later, her name was called. Meanwhile, we had only moved one spot up in the line.
Can People & Profit Co-exist?
Again, the pandemic was really bad for restaurants. Yes, it ushered in a new era of utilization and adaptation of technology when it comes to ordering food online. Of course, this technology saved their businesses and offered a new source of revenue as the world re-opened.
But what happens now?
What happens when the in-person restaurant experience gets second billing to delivery? And for that matter, what happens when these small restaurants who 3x’d their tables through outdoor dining and thus 2x’d their wait times start to feel the pinch of a sub-par dining experience? Will they even care? Profit does trump all, and with more dollars flowing in, maybe they won’t mind some diners flowing out.
As a diner, I want 2019 dining back. The kitchens haven’t gotten bigger, but the table count has. The staff hasn’t expanded, but one or two are now dedicated purely to delivery. I’m sure there’s a happy medium somewhere. These restaurants were certainly never full every day of the week, and delivery helps them fill the gap. There might even be a sustainable business model somewhere in here. But at some point you’re at capacity. And who’s going to win? Diners or delivery?